John L Mathis

Railroad Photography

Conversion 2011

This page covers the ongoing conversion of hardware and software which began in late January 2011. This conversion replaced my home built equipment with a Mac Pro. The shift to Mac OS X has been helped by the ability to run a Windows 7 64bit partition using Mac Bootcamp.

I hope that the following information is useful to anyone contemplating something similar. Of course this reflects my experience and opinions, which may differ from other views which abound on the internet.

Hardware changes:

My previous self-built AMD quad-core system was replaced with a Mac Pro. Although the AMD system was running fine, my increasing creation of large panoramas was bringing it to its knees. I wanted a computer that would have a 4-5 year lifespan, could be easily upgraded and have excellent reliability. The Mac Pro, while not cheap, fills the bill - for what one gets it is not overly expensive. Memory and disk drives can easily be added or upgraded. I do like the Mac OS X. I think the hardware and software work well together. The nice thing about Apple's gear is that the basic system is a closed environment. That is - the operating system is designed to work with known (Apple's) configurations as opposed Window's need to having to try and fit any combination of motherboards and other gear and still run properly.

As for upgrading, the Mac Pro is a dream to upgrade. While checking this out I discovered that Apple uses Hitachi 2TB drives and Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drives, both of which are available at either Amazon or NewEgg. I upgraded memory using Crucial memory (Crucial is a Micron subsidiary) and discovered that the original Mac Pro memory was Micron - China, while the larger Crucial replacement modules are Micron - USA.

One nice thing about Mac OS X is Mac Bootcamp which allows for setup of a real Windows partition with selective booting into either operating system. Unlike softare emulators such as Parallels or Fusion, Bootcamp provides a real Windows environment. The Intel hardware allows it to run a real Windows system. Bootcamp utilities provide drivers for Apple's devices such as the bluetooth Mouse, the trackpad, wireless internet, CD and so on.

After using it for several weeks now, I find that it really works as advertised and provides advantages discussed in the following software section. In short, it allows me to convert while finding some Mac equivalent software for obscure (but useful Windows-exclusive software such as FocusMagic). It also allows me to play the few Windows games I enjoy on occasion such as Stardock's Galactic Civilizations II, ( which will not run on a Windows emulator, but rather needs a "real" hardware Windows machine), and Matrix Game's "Highway to the Reich" (which is based on the star-crossed fall 1944 WWII allied drive to capture the bridges to the Rhine described in the book and film "A Bridge too Far").

Another reason for the change is the fact that I needed a larger and better screen for my image work. I chose the 27" Apple Cinema screen. Although it is glossy and isn't considered a "professional" screen, I find it a big step forward and, like many users, find it an excellent monitor. If you have backround problems such as windows causing reflections in the screen, then this could be an issue. However, for me it works fine. Some naysayers have forgotten that CRT screens were also glossy. I find that details show up better on this screen.

Last but not least in the hardware department, this week I upgraded my scanner. Nikon has left the scanner business. I still have a ton of slides to scan, and rescan since my scanning proficiency has improved over time and some of my first efforts with difficult slides bordered on ghastly. For scanning help go to MarginalSoftware.com.

My Super Coolscan LS8000ED still works very well but it is approaching ten years of age. If it dies, there is no replacement that provides equivalent quality scans at its price. The LS9000ED which is an improved version of the same scanner was produced through 2009 when Nikon left the scanner market. While new one's are scarce and expensive, used ones in excellent condition are still around - although they too are expensive because they are the last of their kind.

The LS9000 fixed some of the LS8000's bugs and deals better with Kodachrome slides which tend to have a blue cast with most scanners. It also has a slightly better color depth - full 16 bits instead of 14 bits which does result in slightly richer images. The scans of ATSF 5090, ATSF 936, and the re-scan of ATSF 545 at Bena are the first images on the site which were done with this scanner. One potential problem is that when Nikon exited the scanner market it dropped support for Nikon Scan and the drivers just as Windows 7 and Mac OS X needed upgrades - see below (but in short Nikon Scan 4 works with both OS's)

Software:

First, when converting to the Mac OS X, it was inevitable that some software on either platform has no equivalent product on the other. Most software is available on either platform, but some software from smaller producers is not. While Apple's share of the marketplace has increased, they still have less than 10% of the overall market. They do have over 30% of the graphics and media processing market however. Their share has increased over the last few years since they went with the Intel platform and with such offerings as the iPad and iPhone.

I find OS X 10.6 to be stable and have had none of the problems that I had with Mac's System 7 in the early 90's. Mac Bootcamp is awesome. It creates a stable Windows platform. I set up a 1TB partition on a 2TB drive. This allows me to re-create my Windows7 64 bit Home Premium platform on the Mac. To create this partition you need a legitimate new full copy of Windows7 not an upgrade.

Mac OS X can read, but not write to Windows NTSF files. The same is true in reverse for Windows. It can read but not write to Mac HFS files. While software is available on the Mac side to write to NTSF files, I don't choose to risk file corruption and only read back and forth.

Nikon doesn't support Nikon Scan 4 on either OS X 10.6 or Windows 7 64 bit. However the internet has fixes for Windows 7 which I used on my previous computer. The fix merely adds Firewire device descriptions in a modified .inf file. This along with another file is added as a sub folder in Nikon Scan 4.0.3 which enables Windows to identify the scanner and it works fine for both the LS8000 and the LS9000.

As far as Mac OS X is concerned, I simply installed Nikon Scan 4.0 and upgraded it with the Nikon Scan 4.0.2 upgrade from Nikon's site. It worked fine although after the upgrade the "About" screen went from 4.0 to 4.0.0 instead of 4.0.2. However when I installed Silverfast AI, it blew away the Nikon drivers. I'm not planning on using Silverfast since they want $200 to "upgrade" my license to the LS9000 even though it works without any change whatsoever. I removed it, re-installed Nikon Scan and it again works fine. I am concerned about future OS upgrades such as "Lion", the next OS release, but I'll just have to wait and see. Worst case I can use it in the Windows 7 partition which I don't plan to change.

The other area where I'm still searching, is Photoshop plugins.

FocusMagic, which I use to deblur scans, has no full equivalent in Photoshop. It uses "deconvolution" algorithms. These became popular when the Hubbell telescope originally had focusing problems after it was launched into space. Topaz InFocus comes close but I need to work more with it to see if it really does as good a job. For now I'm staying in Windows with scans.

The other plug in which I miss, is ProJpeg. I use this to create compact Jpeg files. The files Photoshop creates are half again as large which negatively affects download times for you. I did find a product for the Mac, from Germany, which like ProJpeg is shareware, but it isn't a plugin but rather a standalone program which complicates workflow and increases the time needed to create images for the web site.

Aside from these two problems, everything else works on either platform and I will continue with the transition. As I learn more I will mention it here.

Last Edited: 02/17/2011